Tips on Managing SCA Project Timings

There are many tactics I’ve learned over the years to help me with this. I thought I’d share these, with examples of how I’ve employed them, with the hopes that it might help others in tackling this issue.

Busy, busy, busy!

I am the type of person who thrives on keeping busy; I don’t do well when idle or when my hands aren’t busy. As such, it can be a challenge to manage time effectively when it comes to juggling various projects, teaching, running event components and attending events.

To demonstrate why time management is an important, constant element of my involvement in the SCA, I made 3 Gantt charts (in 6 month increments – click chart to zoom in) of all of the projects, teaching, and running of events and attendance of events that I’ve been involved with from 1 July 2013 to today.

A Gantt chart of all of the projects, teaching, and running of events and attendance of events that I was involved with from 1 July 2013 to 31 December 2014.

A Gantt chart of all of the projects, teaching, and running of events and attendance of events that I was involved with from 1 July 2013 to 31 December 2014.

A Gantt chart of all of the projects, teaching, and running of events and attendance of events that I was involved with from 1 January 2014 to 30 June 2014.

A Gantt chart of all of the projects, teaching, and running of events and attendance of events that I was involved with from 1 January 2014 to 30 June 2014.

A Gantt chart of all of the projects, teaching, and running of events and attendance of events that I was involved with from 1 July 2014 to 8 December 2014.

A Gantt chart of all of the projects, teaching, and running of events and attendance of events that I was involved with from 1 July 2014 to 8 December 2014.

This information can be summarised into a list of the following items I’ve juggled over the past 18 months:

  • Attended 26 events across 2 Kingdoms and 10 different groups;
  • Taught 13 A&S classes;
  • Written 2 research articles for SCA publication;
  • Taken on at least 14 different projects of varying complexity with often tight, external deadlines (approximately 1,360+ hours of work);
  • Taken on the office of Kingdom Historian – spending approximately 176 hours over 9 months on the task, writing a 13,000 word article on Lochac’s history for the SCA’s 50th anniversary, and researching/updating 98 web pages on the Memories of Lochac website;
  • I’ve become more involved in Court and tournament heraldry, and recently attaining the rank of Pursuivant in the College of Heralds;
  • Entered and won 2 A&S competitions (WCOB);
  • Entered my first Laurel Prize at Festival 2014;
  • Ran two fencing tournaments interstate;
  • Worked as 2nd in Charge and Kingdom A&S co-ordinator for Midwinter Crownanation 2014;
  • Trained and successfully completed 2 Rapier Guild Prizes to attain the rank of Journeyman (including entering 30+ tournaments and many weekly trainings).

All of the above projects and undertakings were completed on time, with the exception of the Saxony Court Garb project. This project was undertaken in a period of high stress for me (see section on ‘Building in some fat time’). I still managed to complete over 100 hours of work on elements of the outfit at the time, and  plan to continue with this project in the background in 2015.

A Gantt chart showing the elements of my Saxony garb project that have been started, and of the revised timeline/steps for completion.

A Gantt chart showing the elements of my Saxony garb project that have been started (113 hours minimum of work completed so far), and of the revised timeline/steps for completion.

So, what techniques have I applied to keep on task all this time and what might help others when juggling a sometimes overwhelming number of tasks?

Making Lists

I am apprenticed to the most prolific list maker in the world – Mistress Mathilde Adycote of Mynheniot. You can’t manage your time solely in your head. Making a list of all the tasks you have lined up, and their deadlines, makes it easier for you to see what exactly is on your plate.

Thanks to Mistress Mathilde’s influence, I constantly make lists. They usually contain things I’d like to do, things I need to do, and the associated timings for them. As I complete the projects, I mark them off the list. It is satisfying and encouraging to do this because it demonstrates that you are achieving things, even when it might not seem like it.

Even within a single project, a list can be made. You can list things such as the time you estimate the project will take, deadlines (if applicable), what materials you’ll need, what research you’ll need to do, and all the various stages/parts of the project. You don’t have to know all the answers, but lists help you sort it out.

For example, for the Viking Hoods, the list of such information looked something like this:

  • Task: To make two Viking hoods to specification for Niall II and Liadan II in 6 weeks
  • Timeline: Begin on 7/7/14 and finish by 21/8/14 (for wear at Cold War)
  • Specifications:
    • “Fancy”
    • Include embroidered seams
    • Use blue for Niall and gold for Liadan
    • Base pattern on the Norwegian Skjoldehamn hood
    • Line them – they are intended for warm weather wear
    • Wire-weaving edging (ask Amelot for assistance)
  • Research – I need to look in to:
    • Norwegian Skjoldehamn hood pattern and materials
    • Norse embroidery styles and materials
  • Materials required:
    • Red wool for base (fabric provided by Niall and Liadan)
    • Lining fabric (linen provided by Niall and Liadan)
    • Blue silk and gold silk for trim (fabric provided by Niall and Liadan)
    • Embroidery wool for attaching silk (I already own)
    • Gold twist for embroidery (I already own)
  • Priorities:
    • Make Liadan’s first as Niall will be out of country for the next two events before Cold War
    • First: pattern both hoods
    • Second: construct Liadan’s
    • Third: apply trim to Liadan’s hood using wool thread in buttonhole stitch
    • Fourth: if on track to deliver on time (i.e. finish Liadan’s hood 3 weeks into the 6 week timeframe), embroider seams. If not, move on to constructing Niall’s hood (i.e. this step prioritises the construction and basic decoration of both hoods so they’re wearable in time – embroidery on the seams can be added post-deadline if necessary)
    • Fifth: Repeat steps 2 to 4 for Niall’s hood
  • Estimated time to completion: Unknown – have not done a project like this before.

By making a list like this, you can tick/cross off items as you complete them.

It’s also useful to write up a list after the project has finished for use in future projects (e.g. for what materials to use, to re-use the research, to estimate timings for future projects, etc).

For the Viking Hoods, a completion list could look something like this:

Make your lists your own – write down what you think is important to keep track of and remember to tick off things as you finish them (it can be quite motivating). If it helps, you may want to make a blog post (if you have your own blog for such a purpose) with your lists. Or, you could keep the lists privately to yourself if you’d prefer.

Estimate Timings for Current and Future Time Management

One thing I do almost religiously in recent years is to keep track of how long it takes me to complete a project in terms of hours spent doing said project. This allows me to more accurately assess in the design phase of a new project how long I think it will take me to complete it.

For example, I know that it takes me approximately 40-45 hours to complete a moderately complex, blackwork collar and cuffs project. I know this because I kept track of how long it took me to complete each of my three major projects in this area: Blackwork Collar for Edmund I, German Blackwork Collar and Cuffs for Eva I, and English Blackwork Collar and Cuffs for Gabriel.

When I keep track of time, I don’t count every second. What I usually do is break the item down into easily measured sections or repeating motifs, and I time how long it takes me to do one of them. I can then extrapolate how long I will spend on the project, and can use this to estimate how long I’d need overall to complete a similar project in the future.

This helps you keep on track with current projects you’re working on, as well. For example, with my Elizabethan Sweet Bag project, I measured that it took me 2.5 hours from start to finish for each needlelace leaf I was going to make for my tassels. As I was making 15 leaves, I knew that it would take me 37.5 hours to finish all of them.

Build in Some Fat Time

Humans are not machines, no matter how busy they are. Unexpected things – such as new projects, illness, sudden increase in work pressures, delayed acquisition of project materials, and a whole host of other things can disrupt a project timeline.

To cope with this, it is wise to build some fat into your timeline to cope with unexpected delays. For example, when I was planning my Elizabethan Sweet Bag, I knew that I had a hard deadline of 6 months to complete the project by 12th Night 2014, and a soft deadline of 4 months to have something to present at Fields of Gold 2013. I was not able to complete the bag by Fields of Gold due to the project complexity. I did, however, have enough to display at Fields of Gold and I did complete it by the 12th night hard deadline.

Plan Layers for Complex Projects

When planning a new, complex project, I always break it down into all of the components and prioritise them into what is necessary to complete the project and what would be ideal to add if time permits.

For example, for my Elizabethan Sweet Bag, I made a list of all of the elements I wanted to incorporate into the project. I completed the items in prioritised order so that I would have a bag completed by 12th Night. The list included the following components:

  • Tent stitch (being listed in 15 of the 31 extant pieces) motifs of four flowers and a squirrel on one side;
  • Tent stitch motifs of four flowers and a fox on the back (given the example of Figures 26 and 27, which is an example of two sides of the same sweet bag where the back and front have similar but different designs);
  • Elizabethan braid stitch coiled stems in gold thread (e.g. Figures 4, 7, 9, 31);
  • Background in alternating columns of gold couching and silk backstitch (as depicted in Jacqui Carey’s book , listed in the appendix pdf);
  • Needlelace petals for some of the flowers;
  • Needlelace tassels depicting oak leaves with thread-wrapped buttons depicting acorns (ties in with the squirrel motif, and was inspired from the grape leaves and grape tassels on Accession Number LEEAG.2008-8-3, published in Jacqui Carey’s sweetbag book);
  • Cords braided in silk for the handle and drawstrings;
  • Decorations of metal thread at the top of the bag (looks like a pair of pretzels on the top).

Of these items, I completed every step except for the needlelace petals for the flowers – which I initially identified as elements I would like to include if time permitted.

In the end, I spent 167 hours of making the bag and 117 hours or researching and writing up the sweet bag project.

Don’t Forget to Document!

One thing that is often overlooked in project management is the associated paperwork – whether that consists of event write-ups, training notes or project documentation.

If you do it at the time of the project/event, you are unlikely to forget the details or have a build up of paperwork to do. It also means that, if you need to look back over what you’ve done for some reason (e.g. you want to replicate the project/event or aspects thereof in the future, or you want to enter a project in a competition or write a class on the topic of your project, etc), much of the hard work is already done.

You don’t need to write a novel – even a list of any references you used and/or a list summarising what you did may be enough.

I tend to write more rather than less, because I like to keep track of what I was doing, why I was doing it, and include all of the references I looked into for the project. I treat my documentation like a mixture between a literature review and a procedural recount – some examples of my documentation include:

Prioritising

The nature of A&S projects are that new ones often pop-up unexpectedly. This can make it difficult to keep on track of all the projects you have on the go at once. One way of dealing with this is to prioritise all of the tasks you have to do by importance and deadline. Don’t forget to periodically review your prioritisations, however, as they are often fluid things that change through time.

Factor in Breaks

As I said before, humans are not machines. Sometimes you need to take breaks to prevent burnout/stress. It is not always easy to self-regulate this objectively, and this is where external guidance may be able to help you.

Seek Guidance

I have my Laurel, Mistress Mathilde, to bounce ideas off and to reassess where I’m at with the various projects I’m undertaking. Last year, I also had Mistress Constanzia Moralez y de Zamora as Royal Artisan Co-ordinator to talk to about various projects and timings (particularly relating to my Sweet Bag and the concurrent projects/events I was working on at the time).

Having external guidance can be extremely useful as you cannot always see and assess objectively how much you’re taking on or trying to achieve.

One thing I have learned from their guidance is that it is important sometimes to not take on new projects when you already have a lot on your plate. This is why lists are important – how can you tell how much you’re taking on if you can’t visualise it and assess it objectively?

Another thing I’ve learnt from Mathilde and Constanzia is, where possible, you may be able to meet two or more goals with a single project, thus reducing your overall workload without compromising your goals. I now actively look for areas where multiple goals may be achieved with a single project to be more efficient and realistic with my goals/projects.

Set Goals

In the flurry of projects and events, it can be easy to lose sight of what you are hoping to achieve, especially for personal projects. Setting goals can be a useful way of listing what you hope to achieve, and in keeping you motivated and on track (I mean, who doesn’t like crossing off goals when you achieve them – it can be very satisfying!).

Members and friends of Moralez-Beaumont often set annual goals each year at Great Northern War (GNW) in June, and review their progress the following year. The goals do not need to be specific, nor do they have to be crazy. The idea is to think about where you’d like to be in a year, and work out what is achievable in that time without stressing yourself out. It doesn’t have to be limited to one topic/stream in the SCA, either.

For example, at GNW this year I set the following goals:

  1. Make things for me (see Swedish Valkyrie Outfit)
  2. Improve the Historian position (continuing)
  3. Finish commissions on time (continuing – for example, see Viking Hood for Liadan II)
  4. Improve fitness for Rapier and improve rapier fighting (I’m working on this by using single sword, alternating hands; fighting as many tourneys as possible; learning from various people whether local or interstate; testing candidates for the Guild Prizes; and, I’m going to training as often as possible).
  5. Become a fencing marshal (I began this task last weekend by acting as Marshal in Training with Don Owain at Fields of Gold 2014).
  6. Contribute to making and encouraging others to make heraldic items for baronial fencers (progress TBA)

The idea is to motivate yourself and to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. You shouldn’t berate yourself for not meeting goals and you should try not to set too many goals or goals that are too difficult in the time frame.

Conclusion

There are many different things one can do to stay on track with one’s various projects and events. Some of the ideas discussed above are things I’ve learnt over the past eight years and I hope they may help inspire/enable others.

Nobody is perfect with time management, and I am no exception to this. The areas where I think I can specifically improve in my time management at this point include:

  • As a friend constantly tells me, I should try to alternate projects that I complete for me and projects that are comissioned by others. My biggest motivator is an external deadline, particularly for a project for someone else. I aim to improve my prioritisation of personal projects and ensure I finish at least one of them for each commission I do.
  • I have a tendency to over-burden myself at times. Managing this is, however, something I’ve been getting better at. I need to continue to really think about what’s on my plate and assess whether I should not take on new projects/events/roles when they arise.

My favourite parts of projects are the planning stages where I brainstorm for ideas and draft possible designs, and I also enjoy completing a project. It’s very satisfying to see one’s hard work paid off.

If you have any more ideas on how to time manage in the SCA, feel free to leave a comment below this post 🙂

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